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Tribal leaders invited to meeting on socially responsible investing

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NEW YORK - In an effort to increase diversity at one of the key socially responsible investment conferences of the year, the Indigenous Peoples Task Force of the Social Investment Forum will hold a one-day pre-conference event for American Indian leaders the day before the SRI in the Rockies conference in November.

Both events will take place at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort on the Santa Ana Pueblo, 20 miles north of Albuquerque, N.M. The pre-conference will be Nov. 2, while SRI in the Rockies will run Nov. 3 - 6. The task force hopes Native leaders will stay over for the bigger conference, and they are being offered a discounted registration to do so.

Though not directly connected to the larger meeting, there is organizational overlap, as SRI in the Rockies is put on by the Social Investment Forum and First Affirmative Financial Network.

Keynoting the dinner at the pre-conference will be Rebecca Adamson, Cherokee, founder of First Nations Development Institute of Virginia and now president of First Peoples Worldwide. Adamson will talk about a new report on SRI and how it applies to indigenous peoples and issues, both nationally and worldwide.

Paul Hilton, director of advanced equities research at Calvert, one of the firms in the Indigenous Peoples Task Force, said he hoped up to 50 Native leaders at the level of tribal treasurer or chief financial officer, plus interested analysts from the SRI community, would attend. The bigger conference will be attended by 500 to 600 people and is the biggest SRI meeting in the United States, he said.

This will be the 18th SRI in the Rockies meeting, but the pre-conference is a first (scholarship money to attend is also available for the Native event). SRI in the Rockies is a general SRI event, but also usually has a Native panel each year, Hilton said. Joe Garcia, the longtime governor of Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo who has also served as chairman of the All Indian Pueblo Council and president of the National Congress of American Indians, is set to speak this year after dinner Nov. 3.

Hilton has attended the last 10 SRIR events. He said the siting of the conference hotel on a New Mexico pueblo, itself an example of SRI, makes this a very good year to run a Native event. The goal is not only dialogue between SRI firms and tribes, and to teach them key concepts (social research, shareholder advocacy, community investing and social venture capital), but ''to identify projects people can partner on.''

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Alternative energy projects or sustainable timber development might be good areas for SRI on Native lands, he said. But Calvert, thanks in part to guidance from Adamson, who has served as a director of the company, also uses its investing influence to discourage inappropriate investment.

One example was California energy firm Calpine Corp., which wanted to build two geothermal power plants on land the Pit River Tribe considered sacred. Calvert, which owned an equity stake in the company, fought it as inappropriate. The firm has since failed.

Indigenous peoples' rights is one of seven core issues Calvert considers when thinking about investing in a company, Hilton said, and is the only SRI to formalize this kind of screening.

The firm also flagged fashion firm Liz Claiborne for a line of clothing deemed offensive to Indians; but Hilton noted the firm has discontinued the line, so Calvert will now consider investing in it again.

Besides Adamson, who will speak at a dinner held at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, pre-conference speakers will include Susan White, director of the Wisconsin Oneida Trust Department; Lisa Woll and Tim Smith, top executives of Social Investment Forum, which is an SRI trade group; J.D. Colbert of the Native American Bank; and others.

Besides Calvert, other SRIs involved include Boston Common Asset Management Inc., Pax World Funds, Spectra Funds, Trillium Asset Management and Walden Asset Management.

Sessions will include the history and evolution of SRI, economic development for indigenous communities, investment screening, shareholder advocacy and Native communities, and building indigenous investment in SRI.